Well, it’s here. The least-needed film in cinematic history, and therefore likely the box office smash of 2022. In this special episode I explore, review and analyse Top Gun: Maverick. We look at the military’s involvement throughout the production, the core plotline, why it has taken so long to get a Top Gun sequel, and the ‘key talking points’ the Navy wove into the script.
I first learned of the sequel to Top Gun from – where else? – reports from the entertainment liaison offices. Back in 2015, I think it was, I got 7 years of reports from the Marine Corps’ Hollywood office, which included entries on Top Gun 2. Jerry Bruckheimer first approached the military in 2012, talking about a sequel.
Thus, I actually helped break the story that there was going to be a Top Gun sequel – it wasn’t being reported at that time, though obviously there’s been a huge amount of attention on Top Gun: Maverick over the last three or four years.
Naturally, I filed a bunch of FOIA requests and got a mix of responses – a bunch of documents, some denials, quite a lot of avoidance tactics. At one point the US Navy told me they had tens of thousands of pages of documents on their discussions with the film-makers, but wouldn’t release any of them unless I gave them thousands of dollars. They claimed not to have any script notes – which may actually be true, since they were involved from such an early stage that the script was essentially co-written by the military, just as with Captain Marvel and Act of Valor.
The film was due to come out back in 2019, then 2020, then on several dates in 2021, before finally being released on Memorial Day 2022. Though it was previewed at one of the Cons, had an official premiere at the Cannes film festival with a flyover by the French Air Force, another premiere at Leicester Square which was attended by members of the royal family – you get the picture.
This is even beyond what they did with the release of the last James Bond film, with Daniel Craig being given an honorary rank in the British Navy (who had supported the movie) and all the British military and intelligence agencies doing various promo activities. The release of Top Gun: Maverick has been on another level, perhaps more akin to Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015 or even The Avengers in 2012.
It has already set some box office records and I think it’ll end up being the most lucrative film of the year, particularly since the only competition in terms of mega-blockbusters is more superhero movies, and Moonfall, i.e. the best film of 2022 so far. It is unclear if Top Gun: Maverick will be released in China, but they did make a few little visual changes to try to appease the state censors so I think it’ll make it into the Chinese market.
That being said, a Chinese firm were co-financing the project but pulled out because they felt it would piss off the government to help make a movie that glamourises the US military. The original film was never released in China, because at that time they didn’t let in any American productions, while the 3-D re-release was banned in the country. This appears to be because the enemies in the only combat sequence in the original Top Gun are South-East Asians flying MiGs, albeit fictional MiGs that don’t actually exist. And the dogfight takes place in the Indian Ocean.
Nonetheless, it’s obviously China, obvious enough for them to ban the pointless, lazy 3-D version.
Due to the wonders of international copyright theft, I saw a bootleg copy of Top Gun: Maverick before it was even available at a cinema within a hundred miles of where I live. Though, technically, I live by the ocean so there are only cinemas in half of the directions available, until you get to Ireland. And I’m not going to Dublin just to watch a Top Gun film when I can enjoy a free copy in the comfort of my own home while drinking mojitos and eating THC-infused chocolate.
I was quite taken by this film, largely because I’d been reading the documents, watching trailers and making my own elaborate set of predictions as to what the film would contain. Quite seriously, I spent a lot of this film playing Top Gun bullshit bingo, marking it off each time one of my predictions came true. And I’m happy to say, I was 20 for 20 with what I expected Top Gun: Maverick to be.
Admittedly, predicting the contents of a Top Gun film is about as hard as a marzipan dildo, since every Tom Cruise film is essentially the same.
And it’s true – in this film he’s a jet pilot instructor, a pretty good jet pilot instructor. Then he has a crisis of confidence, but he’s in luck, because he meets a good looking woman who convinces him to be a better jet pilot instructor. And that’s all she does, because the women in this film are even less well developed (as characters) than in the first Top Gun.
So, I thought you’d like a review and analysis of this film – it’s production history involving the US military, the ‘key talking points’ they wove into the script, and how the movie accomplishes its aims, though those aims are a horror show of military propaganda and fan service. We’ll be spoiling the plot pretty thoroughly, though if you’ve watched the original Top Gun and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, then you’ve already seen Top Gun: Maverick.
Why Did It Take So Long to Get a Top Gun Sequel?
First up – why did it take so long? While the original movie met with a mixed critical response it was a smash commercially, and every popular 1980s movie got a late 80s or early 90s sequel. Often more than one.
The answer is the hard-drinking, woman-chasing culture depicted in the original Top Gun, which includes Maverick pursuing Kelly McGillis into the bathroom at a bar and sexually propositioning her, before they start a steamy affair.
This is one of the things that was actually toned down from the initial script – McGillis was originally a military officer, but that was changed to a civilian pilot assessor ‘because of the inordinate sensitivity to the relationships in the service between male and female personnel’.
As I covered in depth in a prior episode, the whole issue of romantic and/or sexual relationships in the US military has caused numerous films to be rejected, and numerous scripts to be rewritten. When it comes to sex crimes, they’re even more sensitive – the Navy even effectively commissioned their own episode of NCIS, and the Army did the same with Army Wives, to push the idea that the problem is victims not coming forward, rather than unresponsive leadership, incompetent investigations, and systemic retaliation against people who make complaints.
The DOD made other changes to the Top Gun script – for example, one note says:
Dialogue — “two sets of sisters” and other references to women (virgins) p. 14 indicate attitudinal characteristics that if overdone become objectionable.
They also removed action depicting seaman drinking on ship, took out a line about marriage in the Navy being ‘impossible’ and noted that the ‘foreign forces’ at the end of the film ‘need resolution – probably not North Korea’.
Indeed, reading the draft script of Top Gun from the Georgetown archive the basic story is the same but a lot got changed, including the loss of a scene where the pilots do mock Russian accents and joke about capitalist pig dogs and how the Soviets want to rape their sisters. To be honest, I’m not sure if the DOD made the film worse or better.
Indeed, the opening of the film was supposed to have the aircraft carrier being thrown around by a massive storm out at sea. But the DOD didn’t like the line about the ship ‘being tossed around like a toy’, even though the scene showed off one of their pilots landing an F-14 on the deck as the ship pitches and rolls. I guess in 1986 it was hard to get a seastorm on demand, so I’m not sure how they would have filmed this.
Instead, we got the opening you’re all familiar with, where the Top Gun theme breaks into Kenny Loggins Danger Zone, and we get a showreel of planes taking off and landing in the sun. Which is, amusingly enough, exactly how Top Gun: Maverick begins. It’s almost shot-for-shot.
And herein lies the first of the three-pronged purposes of Top Gun: Maverick, namely, fan service. The film wants to make you feel like you did when you were young and you saw the first Top Gun. From an entertainment perspective, that’s all they were trying to do, and all they really did. So, if you liked that film, you’ll like this one, because it’s essentially the same film. Same emotional beats, same soundtrack. I’m not sure why Lady Gaga is credited on having helped rework the Top Gun theme, because it’s largely the same piece of music, they could have just used the original score, no one would have cared.
To a certain extent this has always been the way with sequels – the aim is to make the audience feel like they did watching the first movie. So why didn’t we get a Top Gun sequel in the early 1990s? According to documents from various archives, as well as David Robb’s book Operation Hollywood, there was a sequel in development in the late 80s, with provisional Pentagon support.
But then, the Tailhook scandal hit the news.
That’s a clip from Theaters of War, my new documentary. I’ve mentioned the Tailhook crimes before, where a bunch of Navy and Marine aviators went to a conference in Las Vegas and sexually assaulted dozens of women and men at the hotel over the weekend. This included lining up along hallways and forcing women to ‘run the gauntlet’ while being grabbed and groped and assaulted.
When this became public knowledge there were a bunch of investigations, including one by an Inspector General which flagged up the boozing and womanising culture within the Navy. It even cited a ‘Top Gun mentality’ as being partly to blame. As a result, when Bruckheimer and the gang started gearing up for the sequel the Navy told them ‘no way’, because they didn’t want anything that looked like Tailhook or reminded the public of the Tailhook scandal.
Curiously, one of the discoveries Roger made while shooting Theaters of War is that Oliver Stone was offered the original Top Gun project. A few years later, while shooting Born on the 4th of July, Tom Cruise gave an interview to Playboy saying he didn’t want to do a Top Gun sequel, because it would be ‘irresponsible’ and gave the audience a ‘fairy tale’ view of war and military life. He even commented that the film was so successful at military recruitment that ‘Think of that: I am totally responsible for World War Three’.
However, when announcing the new movie at Comic-Con, Cruise mentioned none of this, and openly contradicted himself, saying:
I was always asked ‘When are you going to do another one?’ Well, you’ve been very patient with me. I felt like it was my responsibility to really deliver for you.
From ‘making a sequel would be irresponsible’ to it being his responsibility. Tom Cruise in a nutshell.
Spoilers – The Plot of Top Gun: Maverick
For anyone who hasn’t seen the film, we are now getting into spoilers, not that you’ll find any surprises in this storyline. My first prediction was that Maverick would either be retired, and brought back for one last mission, or that he’d be in some shit detail having been isolated due to his refusal to follow orders, but be brought back for one last mission. Two fairly obvious set ups.
I wasn’t 100% right – we’re introduced to Maverick working as a test pilot for military UFOs in the Mojave desert. Clearly, they relocated Area 51 to the Mojave Air and Space Port. The experimental aircraft program is on the verge of being shut down due to Admiral Hardass’s preference for drones, and the test flight is cancelled. Maverick steals the aircraft, takes off anyway, and pushes it to the point of it exploding in mid-air.
Somehow, this results not in him being thrown out of the Navy but being promoted back to the Top Gun academy, to train a young group of pilots for a top secret mission. Maverick initially thinks he’s going to lead the mission, but Admiral Big Dick (played, appropriately, by Jon Hamm) says no, his job is to get the pilots ready. And he only has three weeks.
This is where the ‘military realism’ falls apart completely, because the target is a uranium enrichment facility in an unnamed country. The briefings include satellite photography and three-dimensional topographical animations of the route they have to fly to get to the facility. There are SAM sites and fifth-generation enemy fighters and all sorts of details.
But for some reason, they waited until three weeks before the facility is due to become operational to pull Maverick out of UFO testing duty and train a bunch of pilots. It took a year to plan the Abbottabad raid, and that involved dropping a dozen or so Navy SEALs outside a house and shooting a few people who may or may not have been Osama bin Laden.
Of course, we have to overlook this total lack of plausibility because movie, but once again it’s an illustration of just how unrealistic these DOD-supported stories are.
We are sort of introduced to the team of pilots he’s training – there’s a cocky one who thinks he’s hot shit, there’s a couple of black ones, there’s a girl one, there’s a nerdy-looking guy. It’s the same setup as in Pitch Perfect 3, with the same broad recruitment appeal as a result. Though I did find it funny that alt right youtubers were going apeshit about how ‘the Left’ has ‘ruined Top Gun’. They really are as clueless as people get.
The only young pilot with any kind of character arc is son of Goose, call sign Rooster, because apparently the writers of this film aren’t aware that baby geese are called goslings. And ‘Gosling’ is quite a cool call-sign, while roosters can barely fly.
He is chosen as part of the 12 or so pilots that Maverick has to train, and whittle down to the half-dozen who will actually fly the mission. Son of Goose initially hates Maverick, because Maverick killed his father in the first film (by accident), and then held Son of Goose back, slowing down his advancement in his military career. It becomes obvious that Maverick is suffering from survivor guilt, and cannot find a way to overcome this and resolve things with Son of Goose.
He is helped to overcome this fairly minor emotional obstacle by the lady who runs the Hard Deck bar, who is clearly some kind of old flame who he gets back together with, and by Val Kilmer. Ice Man is now an Admiral, who has protected Maverick throughout his career due to their friendship, and who recommended Maverick for the top secret mission. He is now dying of throat cancer and is barely able to speak – which seems to be based on Jerry Bruckheimer, who has lost his voice to throat cancer.
Between the good-looking woman and the dying friend, Maverick overcomes his crisis of confidence, sort of resolves things with Son of Goose, and of course picks him for the mission.
Another issue I have with this film is that most of the training, which makes up the first two acts of the story, involves dogfighting. Maverick takes on the pilots, two planes at a time, and constantly gets missile locks on them, because he’s such an ace pilot. But when it comes to the actual air-to-air combat part of the mission, none of this training applies, it’s all about dodging the missiles, using countermeasures and the like.
So Maverick fundamentally fails to prepare them for the mission they actually face – which is exactly the mission that’s explained to them in the briefings.
Then, Ice Man dies, removing Maverick’s protection within the naval ranks. This leads to Admiral Big Dick pulling him off (the mission) and grounding him. So Maverick steals another plane, and runs the training course in record time, hitting the target spot on and proving he’s the best of the best of the best.
This puts Admiral Big Dick in a tight spot, because he either has to court martial Maverick or make him the team leader on the mission. Obviously, he makes him the team leader, because otherwise this would have become a dry, procedural courtroom drama with no aerial photography. It does seem that stealing planes, constantly disobeying orders and completely failing at the tasks he’s given lead to endless opportunities for Maverick within the Navy, so at least that part is accurate.
Maverick then leads the small team into the foreign country, they carry out the bombing run, but Maverick is shot down while defending Son of Goose as they try to escape. Son of Goose disobeys orders and comes back to find Maverick, and save him from being killed by an enemy helicopter, before being shot down himself.
The pair then steal an enemy aircraft and use it to escape, but not before their plane is shot to shit, loses one engine, they can’t bail out because the ejector seats aren’t working, all of that. So Maverick decides this is the optimum time and circumstances to perform a high-speed flyby of the tower on the aircraft carrier, putting himself and Son of Goose at high risk of blowing up in mid air while over a giant Navy ship.
But, because the mission is a success that’s all forgotten, he reunites with the barmaid at the end and everyone lives happily ever after. Except Ice Man, who is the only person who dies in the movie.
I am sure most of you, like me, could have put all this together yourselves. Beat for beat, it’s exactly what I expected – I even predicted a flyby, buzzing the tower, at the end of the mission.
What I did not expect is that they would take so much from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, from 2015. Literally, the mission they have to do is fly along a trench at super high speed, avoiding enemy missiles and fighters, then fire at a ventilation port. There’s even a bit where Son of Goose is lagging behind during the approach, turns off his targeting computer, and asks the ghost of his dead father for guidance.
Now, all of these elements appear in A New Hope, and were recycled for The Force Awakens, which is a soft reboot of A New Hope. The same happens with Top Gun: Maverick, in two senses – they didn’t just lift the whole blowing up the Death Star raid, but they adopted the whole soft reboot approach.
Rather than make a straight sequel, or a remake, or just reboot the whole thing, they made a soft reboot. It’s part sequel, part remake – the events of the original film are part of the backstory, and it contains some of the same characters, played by the same people, so it isn’t a remake. But it isn’t a sequel because it isn’t a continuation of the storyline in the first film, it’s a replay of it.
This was enormously successful in The Force Awakens, because they achieved their aim – make people feel like they’re watching Star Wars as a child. Top Gun: Maverick has done the exact same thing, to the same overwhelmingly positive critical and commercial response.
Just to underline this point, let’s take some box office data:
More than 70 percent of Top Gun 2‘s audience was over the age of 25, including 55 percent over age 35, 38 percent over 45 and 18 percent over 55.
Put simply, this film has multi-generational appeal because of what most people are referring to as the nostalgia factor. But just as with the politics of nostalgia, the core is the psychological association, the emotional association. People are generally happier when they’re children, so any film that reminds them of happier times in their own lives is likely to be popular. The enduring power of Disney cartoons is testament to this. Top Gun and Star Wars just deployed the same manipulations, and got the same result.
Indeed, the production timeline fits too – Bruckheimer initially approached the military in 2012, and has said he decided to do the film on the strength of the story idea. But three years later, in the summer of 2015, they were still finalising the overall story. That Christmas, The Force Awakens came out, and I think the writers saw that film and how successful it was, took the script for The Force Awakens and put it into a blender with the original Top Gun script.
Hey presto, instant soft reboot.
How the military supported Top Gun: Maverick
The timeline of the military’s assistance to the film begins with the project’s resurrection in 2012. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer met with the Pentagon’s Hollywood liaison – Phil Strub – that summer, as well as with representatives from the different military branches. Reports from the Marine Corps note that this was well before even a draft script had been completed, but ‘Initial meeting indicated production will be looking for a large amount of aviation support across all branches.’
Three years later, things got moving and Navy reports record how the writers were taken on a “familiarization embark” aboard a Navy ship, and in September 2015 producer David Ellison, Bruckheimer and Navy officials met ‘to identify general story outline, desired research areas and rough production timeline.’ So you see how, just a few months before The Force Awakens came out, there were meetings with military officers to work out the general story line. They didn’t even have a proper script at this point.
Following this meeting the director of the Navy’s Hollywood office authorised, ‘Skydance Productions the opportunity to be escorted by a DoD project Officer to USN bases/units and meet with personnel with the intent to help develop character arcs.’ The writer and producers met with Commanding Officers and went on board the USS John C Stennis, as well as making research trips to talk to real-life Top Gun instructors. Over the following months the Navy’s updates note ‘Writer currently revising screenplay’ in response to all this access.
In spring 2017 negotiations began over the Production Assistance Agreement, but the script still wasn’t finished and sent for formal military review until the following year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their existing influence over the script, the Pentagon found, ‘No major problems with the story line’ though they did require ‘some revision to characterizations and actions of Naval aviators.’
The screenplay was still in progress as the film began shooting, so the Agreement authorised support on the basis of a working draft, and the Navy required that they could, ‘Assign a senior staff post-command Officer to review with public affairs the script’s thematics and weave in key talking points.’ Despite having been involved in the script’s development for several years already, the military sought even more influence as Top Gun: Maverick was being made.
The military’s support was extensive, comprising filming access at several bases including Naval Air Stations Lemoore, Fallon and Whidbey Island, having a ‘senior subject matter expert… to provide on-set dialogue’, and ‘access to a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier’.
The Navy also allowed for, ‘internal and external placement of the Production Company’s cameras on F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets and Navy helicopters’, pilots for the aircraft, a flyover by ‘The Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (Blue Angels)’ and ‘water survival and ejection seat training for the film’s cast actors at approved Navy facilities.’ Even the set for the Hard Deck Bar, which features strongly in the film, was constructed on Naval Base Coronado, and has apparently been stored there ever since pending its use in promotional events around the movie’s release.
When I first read about this I was highly amused, because the film has been delayed for so long that the Hard Deck Bar set has likely been left to rot in an old hangar, so we probably won’t be seeing it on TV any time soon.
One of the interesting things about these documents is that I filed requests with the Marine Corps, Navy, DOD and other military branches. The Navy basically avoided releasing almost anything, the DOD actually sent along some useful stuff, and the Marine Corps provided an essentially unredacted version of the production assistance agreement.
The Marines also released some emails that showed that the Navy had basically taken over the production, pushing the other branches out of the way. The agreement allowed for use of Marine Corps assets, but no one had bothered to tell the Marine Corps Hollywood office, who were not very impressed. This is presumably why they were a little more forthcoming when it came to these documents than the Navy were – a subsequent FOIA request by another journalist for the Production Assistance Agreement and the Addendums added to it yielded considerably more redacted copies of some of the same documents I had three years earlier.
This effort to muscle others out of the way and make the movie a solely US Navy-branded product extended to entering into social media spats with the Air Force. The Air Force were quoting lines from the original film on their Instagram account, and the Navy responded ‘leave the Top Gun quotes to us’. Clearly, Top Gun is considered primo turkey when it comes to promoting the military.
Who is the Enemy in Top Gun: Maverick?
So, what were these ‘key talking points’ and what influence did the Navy and DOD have on the storyline? Well, the documents don’t make that clear, and they keep avoiding providing me with those specifics. So I just watched the film and drew out all the stuff I predicted would be in the story and dialogue based on years of knowing how these offices work.
The first big theme is the re-veneration of human pilots in the age of drone warfare. Admiral Hardass, played by Ed Harris, tells Maverick that he’s a dinosaur, his kind are done. He explicitly says, ‘these planes you’re testing, one day, sooner than later, they won’t need pilots, pilots who need to eat, sleep, take a piss, pilots that disobey orders.’ He goes on, ‘the future is coming, and you’re not in it.’ Hardass finishes up, ‘Your kind are headed for extinction,’ and Maverick responds, ‘Maybe so sir, but not today.’
That’s right, they stole a line from Battleship, where the main guy says, ‘I’m gonna die, you’re gonna die, we’re all gonna die, but not today!’ just as he drops the anchor and does a handbrake turn in a WW2 battleship.
Back to Top Gun: Maverick – there is no end of emphasis on how important the pilot is – during the first training session Maverick tells the young pilots that their enemy knows everything about the F-18, but what they don’t know is who is in the aircraft. Son of Goose has a catchphrase, ‘It’s not the plane, it’s the pilot’.
This is obviously a recruitment plug, especially at a time when the Air Force and Navy are short of pilots, but it’s also about massaging the image of the military pilot. Most depictions on the TV – whether entertainment or news media – feature this sort of thing:
When the predominant image of the military pilot is one riddled with trauma and guilt, speaking out about their former exploits assassinating people by remote control, that’s a problem. It’s much harder to get people to sign up when they think the end result will be two years stuck inside a baking hot cargo container on a base in Nevada, pushing buttons that murder people halfway around the world.
By offering a sleek, modernised, politically correct image of military pilots Top Gun: Maverick is not only helping with recruitment, the film is providing counter-imagery to that which has dominated our screens for the last decade or more. I genuinely believe that the drone operator character in season one of Jack Ryan was a big reason why the DOD found the project ‘hopeless’. If anything, this film is somewhat anti-drone, and very pro-pilot.
Then, there’s the enemy image. In the first film it was the DOD’s recommendation that the enemy who the Top Gun academy graduates take on at the end of the film be unspecified, unidentified. For a while they were North Koreans, but Don Baruch’s office consulted with people handling Korea, who said that ‘because of ongoing efforts to reduce tensions between the two Koreas [I] cannot concur in identifying North Korea in the film as the aggressor nation.’
The memo initially suggested making the enemy Libyans, but a handwritten note says:
No need to highlight Libya or give Gaddafi any extra ideas!! We don’t want to highlight him or his actions, real or fictional.
The same person wrote at the end of the memo, ‘Recommend a fictitious name be used’, i.e. a country that doesn’t really exist.
This is echoed in Top Gun: Maverick, where the antagonist is never named or identified. An ‘investigation’ by the LA Times couldn’t get an answer from the film’s director or writers, but fortunately geopolitical analyst Kenny Loggins (the composer of Danger Zone) was on hand to offer his thoughts. ‘I think it was a wise decision,’ he said. ‘The planes have no markings. The uniforms have no markings. They’re just the bad guys who are building up nuclear stockpiles, and we have to stop them. It’s not the American military that’s overthrowing the government somewhere.’
In the film, we’re told that they’re targeting a uranium enrichment facility, in a country with a shoreline near which US troops can be stationed. They’re hitting an ‘unsanctioned uranium enrichment plant, built in violation of a multilateral NATO treaty’ and ‘the uranium produced there represents a direct threat to our allies in the region’.
First thing, this is obviously Iran. Secondly, NATO isn’t responsible for negotiating or maintaining treaties on uranium enrichment plants. Thirdly, this makes NATO seem like the UN, a sort of diplomatic or peacekeeping organisation (or at least, what the UN likes people to think it is). Given how rarely NATO is mentioned in film and TV, it’s always curious to hear their name and this branding of them is clearly right out of the DOD’s playbook. Given that this line is delivered off-camera, I do wonder if it was added in later to help tie the film into the present situation with Ukraine being caught between NATO and Russia.
Throughout these briefings the enemy are only referred to as, well, ‘the enemy’ or ‘your enemy’. They’re not even given a racist nickname, that’s how dehumanised they are. And when we get a couple of brief glimpses inside the cockpits of the enemy jets, they’re wearing full-face black masks, not unlike the Empire’s pilots in Star Wars.
Then, halfway through the training we’re told that the enemy has stepped up their efforts, is delivering the uranium ahead of schedule and so the plant needs to be bombed 10 days earlier than the three-week deadline. This is to prevent the uranium contaminating the surrounding area, because we all know how much the DOD cares about the natural environment.
Again, this is why they shouldn’t have pulled this mission together just weeks before the plant became operational, and sent in a bunch of pilots with no meaningful combat experience with less than two weeks training. But at least this is a realistic depiction of military life.
The other big hint that the enemy country is Iran is that the plane that Maverick and Son of Goose steal in order to escape is the F-14 that appeared in early trailers. This is partly fan service and a callback to the original Top Gun, when the F-14 was the main fighter jet in use by the Navy. The dialogue keeps referring to how no one has F-14s anymore, it’s a ‘museum piece’ and so on.
Indeed, that last line is funny because the actual F-14 they used was a museum piece. The Production Assistance Agreement states:
Subject to approval from Naval History and Heritage Command and The National Naval Aviation Museum‘s (NNAM) authorize the production company to borrow one heritage F-14 Tomcat, repaint the aircraft with approved paint scheme, remove ejection seats for on-stage filming, and conduct maintenance to power the aircraft to have control panel and exterior lights operational in support of filming.
This is because the Navy themselves retired the F-14 years ago, and one of the few air forces to still be flying them is Iran, who obviously wouldn’t be interested in supporting the production.
Curiously though, the rogue nation has ‘fifth generation fighters’, which Iran does not. About ten years ago the Iranian military did a PR event where they wheeled out their new fifth generation prototype, but it was quickly identified as an old plane with a paint job and a couple of extra aero-spoilers glued onto it.
Nonetheless, Top Gun: Maverick’s script goes to great lengths to emphasise how America can no longer rely on technological superiority, or even parity. With a straight face, Admiral Big Dick says that the country that has spent more than anyone else on their military, for every year going back decades, is somehow not able to keep up with tiny little rogue nations.
This is pretty much a Trumpist/Fox News talking point – that the American military has somehow not had enough money, and needs rebuilding. Exactly when it will be considered ‘rebuilt’ is unclear, due to the impossible vagueness inherent in these boneheaded metaphors, but its appearance in Top Gun: Maverick is, assuredly, a dog whistle from the military-industrial complex.
Top Gun: The Force Awokens
Thus, the new Top Gun is a lot like the old Top Gun – a showcase for military technology with a deliberately vague antagonist that serves to glamourise being a military pilot at a time when that job is looking pretty fucking grim.
The DOD’s database entry for the original Top Gun says that the film, ‘Completed rehabilitation of the military’s image, which had been savaged by the Vietnam War’. It isn’t wrong – Top Gun was one of the first post-war films, a military story that doesn’t rely on combat or victory. Indeed, it’s one of the least violent 1980s action movies, despite getting millions of dollars in military support.
I wrote in my analysis for Shadowproof that without the original Top Gun we might not have seen the DOD expand into all areas of the entertainment world, from Jurassic Park to Cake Boss. Maybe it would have happened anyway, but that film was a turning point in cinematic history, and in particular in depictions of the US military. It became possible to show the military barely killing anyone, or not killing anyone, and still be the heroes.
We can see Top Gun: Maverick in much the same light – the only people who die are Ice Man and a few nameless bad guys whose deaths we don’t actually witness. But it projects an image of the US military carrying out violent actions anywhere in the world in the name of keeping themselves and their allies safe. No invasions, no Abu Ghraib scandal, no PTSD, no sexual assaults, no lingering consequences or suffering.
As such, the new Top Gun is clearly attempting to rehab the military’s image once again, for a generation who have seen the failure in Afghanistan, the futility of Iraq, and the pointless destruction in Libya, Syria and elsewhere.
All of which is fronted by a character called Maverick, despite being as pro-establishment as a movie could possibly be. You have to hand it to them, the gaslighting is strong with this one.